California seniors rally to lower drug costs | Yes on Prop. 61
CSR joined with other senior groups on the Capitol steps Oct. 17 to rally in support of Prop. 61, which would help stop runaway drug prices and save the state an estimated $1 billion a year.
“Prop. 61 simply requires the state of California to negotiate with drug companies for prices that are no more than is paid for the same drugs by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA),” said CSR President Tim Behrens. “This will greatly reduce the costs the state must pay for prescription drugs … benefitting the state budget, state retirees and all Californians.”
Unlike Medicare, the DVA negotiates for drug prices on behalf of the millions veterans it serves, and pays on average 20-24 percent less for medications than other government agencies, and up to 40 percent less than Medicare Part D.
Opponents of Prop. 61 are erroneously spreading the message that veterans will be harmed financially if the proposition passes, according to the measure’s supporters, which include CSR, AARP, the California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA), Social Security Works and more.
Speakers stressed that contrary to many statements in television ads and elsewhere, the mere passage of Prop. 61 does not mean that drug costs for veterans will rise.
They listed several facts about veterans’ drug costs:
- The U.S. DVA pays the lowest drug prices of any government agency because federal law requires deep discounts in drugs sold to DVA.
- Federal law also limits drug price increases to DVA top no more than the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
- Regardless of how much DVA pays for any particular drug, the amount of money an individual veteran may have to pay out of pocket in a co-pay for a prescription drug is in no way dependent on that drug’s underlying price.
- Any price increase would not affect how much a veteran pays. The level of benefits and the amount of any co-pays or out-of-pocket costs depends on the priority classification of the veteran.
Currently, the state of California spends nearly $4 billion per year on the prescription drugs that it purchases, Behrens told the crowd.
“Prop. 61 would empower the state – as the health care buyer for millions of Californians – to negotiate the same or an even better deal for taxpayers as the VA,” Behrens said. “That would save nearly $1 billion a year.”
Prescription drug costs are one of the greatest drivers of rising health care costs in California. State spending on specialty medications, such as those used to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s and hepatitis C are rising faster than other types of medications, Behrens said. Older Californians are particularly vulnerable to high drug costs because millions live on limited incomes and nearly two-thirds take three or more prescriptions on a regular basis.
In April, AARP released a new survey that found more than half of adults 50-64 who did not fill prescriptions in that past year said cost was a factor in their decision to forego medication. Ninety-three percent of those surveyed support allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug costs and 84 percent of those surveyed say drug companies should publicly explain how they price their products.
The money the state saves from lower drug costs could be used toward such things as the elderly, children, the mentally ill and housing, the Prop. 61 advocates said.
“Prop. 61 is the first step toward getting a handle on out- of-control drug prices,” Behrens said. “We strongly encourage our 35,000 members, their family and friends, and all Californians to vote yes on Prop. 61.”
More information is available in the voters’ pamphlet and at www.Yeson61.com.